Five charged with Proud Boys conspiracy in deadly U.S. Capitol attack

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Five alleged members of the far-right Proud Boys group have been charged with criminal conspiracy in last month's deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol that sought to keep then-President Donald Trump in power, according to a criminal complaint unsealed on Thursday.

Federal prosecutors on Thursday also outlined details of a suspected plot by the anti-government Oath Keepers group to stage a "quick reaction force" outside Washington on Jan. 6 ready "to fight hang to hand" if ordered to do so by Trump.

More than 200 people have been charged with federal offences in the bloody assault on Congress, which claimed the lives of five people at the Capitol and led to Trump's impeachment trial this week on a charge of inciting insurrection.

Democratic prosecutors at the impeachment trial have described how they said Trump laid the groundwork for the attack by falsely claiming he was robbed of re-election by voter fraud, then exhorting his supporters to "fight like hell" to "stop the steal."

Two alleged members of yet another right-wing extremist militia, the Boogaloo Bois, were arrested by FBI agents in Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday on federal charges of instigating acts of violence through social media.

One of the two, John Subleski, 32, was accused of inciting a riot in downtown Louisville on Jan. 6, "contemporaneous with the Capitol riots," in which he and others pointed rifles at motorists and barricaded a number of roads, federal prosecutors said. The second man, Adam Turner, was accused of directing threats at police officers.

The Louisville charges underscore the dimension of right-wing extremism across the country in the aftermath of the tumultuous 2020 elections.

At the same time the U.S. Justice Department is considering whether to charge members of the groups under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, normally used against organized crime.

In the new Proud Boys complaint, prosecutors charged William Chrestman, Christopher Kuehne, Louis Enrique Colon, Felicia Konold and Cory Konold with conspiring together to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's election victory.

It alleges that as far back as December, organizers of the Proud Boys, including its leader Enrique Tarrio, encouraged their members to travel to Washington on Jan. 6.

Tarrio was arrested two days before the Capitol riots on charges of possessing two high-capacity rifle magazines and for burning a Black Lives Matter banner during a December demonstration by Trump supporters.

To date, the United States has charged at least 18 people who are believed to be associated or allied with the Proud Boys.

Prosecutors on Thursday offered more details about the alleged planning, training and coordination that some members of the Oath Keepers undertook after Trump lost the November election.

In a 21-page memo, they asked a federal judge to detain Jessica Watkins, whom they describe as the leader of an Ohio-based militia tied to the Oath Keepers, saying she harbors extreme views that the Biden presidency poses an "existential threat" and actively recruited people to participate in a coup.

Prosecutors quote her on Nov. 17 as telling a recruit that if Biden was president, then "our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights.”

Thursday's detention memo for Watkins suggests that some of Trump's most fervent supporters believed he sought to signal them into action.

In the memo, prosecutors say Watkins exchanged texts with another co-defendant and other unidentified contacts about coordinating a "quick reaction force" which would be there as back-up with guns if needed on Jan. 6.

"We can have mace, tasers, or night sticks," she wrote, noting the armed team would be "outside DC with guns, await ... orders to enter DC under permission from Trump."

Watkins, jailed awaiting trial, has yet to enter a plea and could not be reached for comment. The court docket does not list a lawyer for her.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)